Exploring Penang

Credit: Papers by Sepia Lane; Elements and embellishments by SFJ CT

The streets of Georgetown, Penang’s capital, is filled with mouth-watering street food, artistic murals, and gorgeous heritage architecture.

If in season, the durian (in this case the musang– the king of durian) is sweet and creamy
A plate of oyster omelette can be found in many food hawker in the island.

An absolute feast to the eyes, the soul and the taste buds.

A city somehow frozen in time yet woven with today’s modern lifestyle caprices, Georgetown easily caters to history buffs, photographers, shopaholic and foodie fanatics.

Once an important trading hub, the British East India Company established spice farms throughout the island. The export of these spices helped cover the administrative cost of Penang in its early years.

The influence of Asia and Europe have endowed this city with a unique multicultural heritage and with all the astounding history around, Georgetown was awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 2008.

Pedestrian-friendly, the well-planned series of roads and paths will reveal an exciting, vibrant city with eye-catching street art caricatures, colorful heritage houses, atmospheric temples, beautiful mosques, and bustling food hawkers.

Highlights of our exploration:

Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion

One of Penang’s most prominent attraction and one of the only 3 UNESCO Heritage award-winning buildings, Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, also known as The Blue Mansion is a stately 1880 manor that stands out because of its indigo blue façade.

The Guestrooms

Designed in traditional Hakka – Teochew Style, the mansion was restored into a Boutique Heritage Hotel by a conservation project that went on to win numerous architectural awards.

A tour of the estate will reveal the lifestyle of Cheong Fatt Tze, his family and the cream of Penang society in the era it was in.

Penang Hill

Dominating the Georgetown landscape, Penang Hill was the 1st colonial hill station developed in Peninsular Malaysia. The top of the hill is accessible by a good hike or the Penang Hill Funicular Railway (which, by the way, is the steepest tunnel track in the world) from its base station at Jalan Bukit Bendara, Air Itam.

The hill is a community of attractions that include food and drink options set 821 meters above Penang’s capital. It is the last piece of tropical rainforest in Penang, so flora and fauna have been protected since 1960.

The Habitat on Penang Hill

For the ultimate Malaysian rainforest experience, a visit to this part of the hill is a must.

When you walk through the gateway of the Habitat, you enter a magical kingdom of a 130-million-year-old rainforest.

This world-class ecotourism site is the first of its kind in Malaysia. It aims to promote environmental consciousness and conservation awareness.

Walk on the new world-class Stressed Ribbon Bridge named the Langur Way Canopy Walk 
The Tree Top Walk

Clan Jetties

Along the pier are villages on stilts that house descendants of Chinese immigrants. Constructed over a century ago, the jetty has developed into a town propped up over the sea.

Planks create paths linking houses on stilts, owned by families of fishers creating a rustic and peculiar impression. We found ourselves at the Chew Jetty, but in total, there are 8 different clans still residing there.

The Chew Jetty Café is a good stop for lunch or refreshments. Though the White Curry is what the café is famous for, we were too late. Here’s what we had instead — also quite good and worthy of my recommendation.

Pinang Peranakan Mansion

The mansion allows you a glimpse back in time as to how the wealthy Straits Chinese settlers once lived. The Peranakan, also known as the Babas and Nonyas, was a prominent community of acculturated Chinese unique to this part of the world.

Adopting selected ways of the local Malays, and later, the colonial British, the Peranakan lifestyle and customs had not only left a rich legacy of antiques but its cuisine and languages as well.

The Pinang Peranakan Mansion is one of the best surviving examples of the lavish lifestyle of this prominent community containing an extensive collection of furniture, silverware, dresses, decorations, collectibles, and appliances.

Nyonya Cuisine

A feast we devoured in Kebaya

A must-try! It echoes the cultural identity of the Peranakans. Nyonya cuisine is as exotic as their east meets west architecture, their beautiful fashion, and their elaborate pottery. It is mostly traditional Chinese food altered to suit the local palate and to augment the limited ingredients found in their new homeland.

Some of the signature ingredients used in Peranakan cooking include coconut milk, laksa leaves, lemongrass, and tamarind. The result is an extraordinary cuisine that is altogether tangy, sweet, sour and spicy.

Little India

A few steps away from the Pinang Peranakan Mansion is Little India.

Wander around and experience a whole new world. Its culture and food adventure is definitely worth the exploration.

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Tranquility in the Country Side and A Quiet Resort

Country-Side-and-Mt.-Popa-ResortCredits: Papers by Sus Designs’ Saving Memories kit.

We found ourselves in a quiet street, away from the main road of New Bagan, looking for La Min Thit, a family run restaurant highly recommended by the staff of Yadanarbon Hotel. There we were warmly welcomed by the owner himself, Ko Htwe. He suggested some excellent dishes, which he said are simple home food that his wife cooks.

La-Min-Thit-dishes

While waiting for our food to arrive, we asked for a recommendation on things to do while in Bagan and ended up accepting his offer to drive us to Mt. Popa on New Year’s Day.

Fifty kilometers away from Bagan, passing through the countryside, is an extinct volcano, an iconic postcard sight, and a frighteningly steep cliff that leads to a sacred monastery.

Mt.-Popa

Monasteries and temples can become monotonous after a week in this country so we decided to just admire it from afar.

Resort

Instead, Ko brought us to the Mt. Popa Resort, just 1.5 kilometers away from the pilgrim village.

poolside

Mt-Popa-from-Resort

Mt-Popa-backdrop

The resort offers a breathtaking view of the Taung Kalat Monastery atop Mt. Popa and its lush surroundings.

Organic-garden

It also offers cooking classes in their organic garden.

Organic-garden-and-Ko-HtweKo Htwe enjoying the garden with us.

Resort-2

Mt.-Popa-Resort-dishes

We went continental for lunch, for a change.  The serene and relaxing vibe was a welcome treat.

On our way to Mt Popa, we stopped at a roadside village selling local produce.

Country-life

Local-snacksLocal snacks, which include ingredients to make Tea Leaf Salad.
Making-ThanakaNothing spells more quintessential Burmese than Thanaka.  This girl was making Burmese sunscreen from this bark.

Useful Info:

Mt. Popa Resort: Mount Popa, KyaukPadaung Township, Mandalay Division, Myanmar 
Tel: (+95 9) 402760884, (+95 9) 8600 660. 

La Min Thit: Khat Thet Street, New Bagan Tel: (+95) 6165313

Happy Feet At Asahiyama Zoo

Credits: Solid Brown paper and Guess What Tag by Splendid Finn You are awesome kit; Bow, Ribbon Cluster, Staples, Saving Memories word art by Sus Design

Mumble, the penguin character in that animated film, Happy Feet, that cannot sing but tap danced his way to Gloria’s heart. Yes, that same Mumble charmed its way into my heart too.

So the whole reason I was in Asahikawa was to be up close to the likes of Mumble. All these chubby birds had to do was waddle past us, and it made my day.

An icon of winter at the Asahiyama Zoo, the 30-minute Penguin Walk is designed to keep them fit and healthy during the cold months as they hardly get enough exercise by staying indoors especially during winter. They are known to walk as far as 1 kilometer a day towards the sea in a group to catch fish.

A close relative and very similar in looks to Emperor Penguins – what Mumble is – the King Penguins are 2nd only to the Emperor in size. To distinguish, the latter’s orange feathers on the side of their head are colorful and brighter than that of their cousins. Their beaks are also the longest of the whole family of penguins. Though they are known to be the best divers and swim incredibly fast, they, however, saunter on land and are known to slide on their bellies to help them maneuver through the ice and snow.

To survive the severely frigid climate, they are equipped with several unique layers of scale-like feathers to protect them from icy winds and offer a waterproof coat. They also store large amounts of fat that insulate their bodies while also serving as a long-lasting energy source.

What’s interesting is that wild penguins follow the paths between the mountains and during the walk, they were not trained to walk the path, but because they see people like mountains, they automatically follow the path that the people make.

If you happen to be in Hokkaido during the winter, make sure to make your way to Asahiyama Zoo to get a glimpse of these cute chubby birds. It will be worth your while.

On the Cangshan

at-fabulous-mt-cangshan

Credits:  Quick page created by elseepe (Creative Team Member for JessicaSprague.com) using the “You Are Awesome” collaborative kit created for JessicaSprague.com’s birthday bloghop 2010 by the designers at JessicaSprague.com.

Rising above the city of Dali, standing east to Erhai Lake and facing west to the Black Hui River is the Cangshan Mountain.

trail-2

It has 19 peaks with the Malong Peak, the highest, at 4,122 meters. Picturesque streams run between summits and cascades its way down.

qingbi-stream

What used to be an 8-10 hour trek through the forest is now down to 2 hours. We, however, made it in 30 minutes through cable car, which we rode from the Tianlongbabu Film Studio.

on-the-cable-carOn the cable
remindersFunny reminders right before getting on the cable car.

What greeted as we alighted from our cable car was this giant chessboard.

giant-chessboard-and-cable-car

giant-zhenlong-board

A few meters down, passing through a bridge is Qingbi Stream.

bridge-to-qingbi-stream

We didn’t go any further but sat somewhere and had a conversation with an old gentleman who was visiting with his daughter. He spoke impeccable English, which is quite rare today. He is from Beijing, and he learned his English in a Christian school when he was a little boy. He talked a bit about his life then and how he survived labor camp. He seemed happy and content. It was his wish to see Yunnan hence this visit with her daughter. They left first as we waited for the others to come back from their trek up the Cangshan.

Jianshui: An Ancient Town Side Trip

Ancient-Town-JianshuiCredits: Now is paper in green and orange; 4ever paper in argyle, love, and solid blue; 4ever striped ribbon—all by Splendid Fiin; Queen of Quirk star element.

Many stop for lunch, but not many stay the night. An optional gateway just 117 kilometers northeast of Yuanyang, we thought that it would be nice to spend a leisurely afternoon and evening in Jianshui County.

coffee-shaved-ice-and-beerRelaxing on shaved ice, coffee and beer ordered mostly through google translate.

It may not be the highlight of our trip, but it was a pleasant interlude, watching the day pass by in a small, sleepy town.

Walking around Jianshui brings you back to the Ming Dynasty.

exploring-Jianshui-2

Many of the structures still keep the tradition architecture of that time. It is like walking through a museum of ancient buildings and residences.

exploring-Jianshui

Small enough to walk around, we covered most of the must-sees in one afternoon.

lunch

After a sumptuous lunch in one of the very few “foreigner friendly” (menu presented on a tablet with photos) restaurants in Han Lin Lu, we headed out to explore the town.

restaurant

Not far from the restaurant in Jianxin St. is a fascinating example of the Qing era, the Zhu Family Garden.

zhu-family-ancient-architecture-

Transporting you 150 years back into imperial times, it showcases the elegance of the Zhu family’s architectural complex from raised eaves, intricate carvings to the spacious 20,000 square meter compound—

zhu-family-courtyardcourtyard
zhu-family-intricate-carvingsintricate carvings
zhu-family-looking-out-to-gardengarden

comprising of ancient buildings, family houses, ponds, lovely gardens and courtyards that took thirty years to build.

tree-lined-street

The main road, Lin-an Lu is shaded with old trees and on its eastern end stands this three-story Chaoyang Tower with a panoramic view of the town.

Chaoyang-Tower

Built in 1389, the gate tower stands in the middle of Jianshui County and with exactly the same style as Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, it has been labeled as the “Little Tiananmen”.

locals-socializing

locals-socializing-4

locals-socializing-3

A lovely place to while away time, many locals spend their free time socializing at the square.

confucius-temple

On the opposite end of Lin-an Rd. is a well-preserved and one of the largest Confucius Temple in China.   The temple is constructed in traditional Chinese architecture with a history of more than 700 years.  We actually skipped this and instead walked around town and amused ourselves with the everyday goings on.

everyday-stuff-2A favorite past time, I reckon
everyday-stuffA lovely background sound it made while we were having our coffee

A contrast to lunch, in an alleyway in a small barbecue shop, dinner was the famous BBQ tofu

grilled-tofu

and a Jianshui original, rice noodle soup call Guo Qiao Mixian.

dinner

And with that satisfying dish, we ended our day ready for tomorrow’s trip the Yuanyang.

More of Jianshui:

guilin-innThe entrance to our guesthouse, Guilin Inn
locals-in-the-squareA man on the square
locals-socializing-2Singing in the square
restaurant-interiorInside the restaurant at lunch
view-of-Lin-'an-from-Chaoyangthe view of Lin’an Road from the tower
zhu-garden-pondone of the many ponds of the Zhu Family Garden

Rainy Days in Seoul: Taxi rides, Museums and Bibimbap

rainy-days-in-SeoulCredits:  Template from the You are Awesome bloghop

As luck would have it, we woke up to a rainy Seoul on our first full day in South Korea’s capital.

rainy-dayBreakfast at the guesthouse.

What to do? We deferred our plan to walk around Bukchon Hanok Village and instead, per the suggestion of the guesthouse staff, we headed to the National Folk Museum in Samcheong-ro in Jongno-gu.

The hassle-free way to get around on a wet day is by taxi. So driver dropped us off in front of the Gyeongbokgung Palace. The museum is located inside the palace grounds, but we didn’t know that. So imagine us bewildered when he stopped the car and tried to tell us (in Korean and sign language) where to go. And so we got off but couldn’t figure out why. While studying the map (in the rain) to get our bearings, he came back and gestured for us to get back in. He decided to drive us all the way to the gate. A quick left and a U and there we were at the side entrance of the Palace, closest to the museum. He was actually trying to tell us to cross the street, walk a little further, turn left, and we will find it. But he didn’t speak English, and we didn’t understand Korean hence the confusion. He didn’t charge extra.

National-Folk-MuseumThe museum shows the lifestyle and traditions of everyday Koreans at different periods that stretches from prehistoric to the end of the Joseon Dynasty.

traditional-villageThere is also an open-air exhibit that takes you back in time through a replica of a street in a traditional village in late 19th century when a new modern culture was rising in Korea.

grinding-millThere you’ll see a grinding mill, a street car; hanok-style buildings and stores.hanok-style-stores

For lunch, we took a very short taxi ride (the driver scratching his head but couldn’t explain that it is just across the street, practically!) to Insadong. But because it was also drizzling, he obliged. I am amazed at how kind and gracious these people are. Thank you!

Lunch was an entirely satisfying meal of bibimbap and bulgogi at Gogung. I forgot how I adored these well-known dishes, which I first came across about 3 decades ago, when Seoul and I weren’t quite as hip. GogungThis beautiful mixed rice with vegetables, chili paste and eggs called bibimbap kept us full without breaking our pockets. Gogung, known for its Jeonju style bibimbap, is in the basement of Ssamzie-gil, a colorful shopping and cultural complex in Insadong-gil.

insadong-gilThe main street, Insadong-gil

An iconic Korean street, Insadong is a vibrant neighbourhood with streets and narrow alleys lined with antique shops, art galleries, and all kinds of shops, from beauty to crafts.

alleys-insadong

insadong-stores It is also home to many traditional restaurants and teahouses. Tomorrow a food tour we signed up for will bring us back here. So stay tuned for more of Insadong and its street foods on my next post.

Responsible Traveling

Sagada's-RealityCredits: Papers by Splendid Fin 4ever Swirls and Now is paper in green; The Design Girl paper 1; Elements from Scrap Matter’s Life Little Surprises: leaf and flower by Scrapmuss; frame by Gwenipooh Designs; Splendid Fin Now is Striped ribbon

My first entry to Sagada was in 1994. I was instantly drawn to it because it reminded me of a TV series set in Alaska that I love. Remember Northern Exposure? Rustic town, log cabins, lots of trees, hilly and winding roads, cool weather, sunflowers, indigenous people… well, it doesn’t snow in Sagada, but you get the drift. But more than that, it had caves, waterfalls, rice terraces, lakes and green pastures too. It has become my haven of rest, my respite when the going gets tough in the metro. I’d frequent it through the years.

St-Mary'sUnobstructed view of St. Mary’s Episcopalian Church back then.  1997.

Back in the days when going to Sagada entails eight to ten hours of (no air conditioning) bus ride and two very bumpy, dusty jeepney rides because you dare not subject your car to the condition of the road (fit for a 4×4 only) leading up to Sagada. Inaccessibility kept Sagada away from the crowd. You had to adore the place to keep going back or even attempt a visit back then.

Walking-to-Lake-DanumWalking to Lake Danum.  1997.

Back in those days, we’d walk everywhere. Sumaging Cave, Lake Danum, Kiltepan, Echo Valley, except for Bomod-ok Falls, where we’d take a jeep to the jump off point to the village of Fedelisan. I remember my first attempt to the falls—muddy and slippery and scary.

narrow-path-to-the-falls
The terraces were narrower then unlike the wider cemented walkways of today (done for the tourists in mind).

Fedelisan-terracesSome paths only had rocks to step on. That was scary.

Back in those days, there was no way to book a room in advance. We’d take a chance and stay wherever there was room. We’d take cold showers because we didn’t know that they sell hot water by the pot for 10 pesos. Crazy, I know. But those were the best times.

The way to Sagada has gotten so much easier because the roads are paved now. Visitors tripled, probably quadrupled over the years. Accommodations of all sorts have sprouted, eateries too. Subtle changes I didn’t mind at all. I actually loved the new additions until my haven of rest started to morph from a tranquil, laid-back escape into a noisy, car-packed town. I now become nostalgic of what Sagada used to be and desiring the old one back.

IMG_7145Basura and problema  naming ngayon (we now have a problem with trash),” says friend and guide Fabian. In the many years that travellers (mostly foreign and local backpackers) have come, trash had never been an issue until recently.

And that recently is when the Filipino hit flick, “That Thing Called Tadhana” unwittingly made Sagada an “in” thing.   Nothing wrong with that but sad to say, many of new visitors are irresponsible tourists leaving not only their footprints but also their trash behind.

IMG_7146

I have yet to understand their psyche but I sense a lack of respect for nature and the surroundings. While waiting for the sunrise in Kiltepan (which by the way was packed with perhaps 200 people taking “selfies”that morning),

crowd-in-Kiltepan

taking-selfiesI’d hear words like “Bet ko nandito parin tayo ng 7 o’clock” (bet you we’re still here by 7 o’clock), like the sun will never rise.

sunriseSana natulog nalang tayo” (we should have just slept in), one said before leaving because the sunrise wasn’t spectacular.   Folks, the sun will rise, that’s for sure but life does not promise dramatic ones every day.   I tell myself to chill because people think differently but how do you explain this one— “Pinaasa lang tayo ng sunrise” (in essence, it means – the sunrise led us on).   Really? Like nature owes you?

I always encourage people to travel because it is enriching. Depending of course on how one takes a trip, the experience can be priceless. But, we need to change our travel habits and be responsible travelers, to be responsible enough to properly dispose of our trash, respect local tradition and most especially their environment. I hope one day we learn to be just that.

‘Responsible travel’ means assessing our impact on the environment and local cultures and economies – and acting to make that impact as positive as possible. – Tony and Maureen Wheeler, Lonely Planet